With the ideal weather we’ve been having in Wisconsin this growing season, we likely are going to have surplus crops. We farm 300 acres and milk 90 cows. Normally, we sell a little high-moisture corn to the neighbor in good years, but this year, we’re going to have a lot of corn to sell, and probably some haylage, too. We already have enough haylage from the first three cuttings for our own herd. Likely we’ll take a fourth cutting Sept. 1 and a fifth cutting sometime in October. Should we sell our surplus crops to the neighbor or keep them in case we have below-average crops next year? Please advise.
Tom Kestell: Congratulations on a bountiful crop year. Great crops do not just happen; it takes nature and management working together. You raise some interesting questions. I think it is wise to evaluate your overall farm profitability and how the farm’s total output impacts profitability. Think about how much you want to increase inventory of feed, maybe extending an extra 30 days, but storing excess feed can be a mistake in many cases.
I know a lot of large farms look at 18-month inventory levels as a sound business decision. You and I have similar size dairy herds, and I have decided a three-month carry over is adequate for my size of dairy. I think it is important to use up old inventory so it does not have time to deteriorate. Quality of feed is always more important than volume of inventory.
Many large farms are still short of high-quality forage and would welcome the opportunity to add high-quality feed from your farm. Many times, large farms want to harvest crops they purchase themselves because of the control it gives them. As far as excess shell corn is concerned, I would not store excess inventory, but rather make a deal with a neighbor early to buy projected excess at a fair price to the seller and buyer. I am happy to see you are planning ahead to make decisions that suit your farm.
Sam Miller: This is a great question and one many of our clients have also raised. There are trade-offs associated with either option. As you note, you will likely have surplus crops, which can be sold to provide additional income this year. Many other farmers will also have surplus crops, and this could depress the price you receive for corn and haylage.
You may also want to review your income and tax situation with milk prices, Dairy Margin Coverage or other insurance revenue and USDA payments to determine if you want the added income this year. On the other hand, many dairy farms had tight feed inventories and are looking forward to building up reserves for future years if this crop finishes as expected. Fortunately, you have options — consider the income, taxes and peace of mind to guide your decision.
Katie Wantoch: Despite the many challenges occurring in 2020, the weather has been a bright spot. It sounds like you are having a good growing season and have the dilemma of deciding what to do with excess inventory. Feed costs on a dairy farm account for the largest expense. In 2019, FINBIN reports indicate average feed cost was $2,036.91 per cow. Expenses for corn, corn silage, hay and haylage averaged $816.16 per cow, or 40% of total feed costs. Reducing feed costs is one of best ways to improve your farm profitability. Complete a feed inventory to establish your current stock of various feed ingredients, and make a projection to determine the amount of feed needed over the next year.
Knowing how much is the first step. The next step is knowing the nutrient value. Make sure to note the quality of the feed to determine the best mix of ingredients for your herd. Work with your nutritionist if you need help sampling and analyzing forages that have been harvested. Balancing forage demand and supply can help to avoid any surprises throughout the year. Excess projected inventory can then be sold.
Careers in agriculture
I will be a senior in high school this fall. I live on a 250-cow dairy farm in central Wisconsin with my parents and two older brothers, who farm with my parents. So far, my college major is undecided, but I would like a career in agriculture. I’m just not sure what I want to do. Who can I talk to about this? I tried talking to our school guidance counselor, but she doesn’t know much about ag and suggested I major in math because I’m good at math and I am a girl. I told her girls know a lot about ag. I think I would have a better chance of getting into a college and getting scholarships if I had a plan by the time I apply this fall. What are your thoughts?
Tom Kestell: Just to put a few things in perspective, indulge me to digress a bit into my own past experience. When I graduated from high school 54 years ago, 8 of 10 of the top students in my class were girls. I often commented back then that women would someday rule the world because of their work ethic, dedication to goal setting and passion to achieve their goals. Back in the old days, however, there were no girls in my school involved in FFA or agriculture class. There were very few young women pursuing careers in agriculture. How the world has changed in my lifetime. A few examples: 9 out of 10 veterinary students are female; a large percentage of ag journalists are women; and many veterinary researchers, ag nutritionists and ag accountants are women. I have not worked with a male at the Farm Service Agency office in over 40 years.
This is a very short list of what women in agriculture are doing today. The list goes on and on, including the fact that women own a vast amount of agriculture assets in the world today. In many cases, women control the books and financial future of the farms they are involved in. So, I want to congratulate you on being ready to enter the ag workforce at a great time with endless opportunities for young women like yourself.
First, take personal stock of what you want to do long term. What do you enjoy and gain personal satisfaction from? Where can you best direct your talents and energy into a rewarding career? Try to think long term into what career you could do while raising a family.
As for a source of advice, there is no question in my mind that the best pool of advisers are young professional ag women themselves. Talk to young and also experienced women in agriculture for direction. Female ag groups or tech schools can direct you in your future endeavors and what opportunities there are in this ever-changing field. This is your life to live and prosper in, and the sky is the limit. You will be limited only by your drive and pursuit of happiness and fulfillment. Girls know a lot about ag and have a tremendous input in modern agriculture worldwide. Good luck!
Sam Miller: It is not usual and quite appropriate that you don’t have a major selected at this point in your life. Many college students begin with a major in mind and change direction after taking some classes and refining their interests. To assist your information gathering, ask your parents to introduce you to some of the individuals who provide services to the dairy business, such as the nutritionist, agronomist, banker and veterinarian. These individuals can provide you with differing views on potential areas of study and perspective on different colleges. Getting an early start will help you continue your educational journey. Good luck with your search.
Katie Wantoch: Women in agriculture are helping to pave the way for a better future, on the farm and in the tractor. Women have been a critical part of farm operations across the country. Some people may know exactly what they want to do, but most people do not. It can be hard to choose which career path is best, so I always encourage youth to shadow professionals to see what their jobs are like. Take a variety of classes to see what catches your interest.
There are many great resources that can assist in your search to finding the area that most interests you. Extension’s ag careers site offers an interactive career exploration, road maps that provide steps to pursuing an ag career and videos of professionals describing their careers. You too can choose a career that’s right for you and help to make a difference in the world. A career in agriculture is one of the best, and there are many opportunities for all races, genders and ages.
Agrivision panel: Tom Kestell, dairy farmer, Sheboygan County, Wis.; Sam Miller, managing director, group head of agricultural banking, BMO Harris Bank; and Katie Wantoch, Extension agricultural agent specializing in economic development, Dunn County, Wis. If you have questions you would like the panel to answer, send them to: Wisconsin Agriculturist, P.O. Box 236, Brandon, WI 53919; or email email@example.com.